Hufft Owners Use Their Home to Showcase and Experiment with Designs
The wood on the vanity in the downstairs powder room doesn’t match the wood on the vanities in the bathrooms on the upper two floors. And none of those types of wood matches the wood on the kitchen cabinets, which in turn does not match the wood floors throughout the home or the wood on the third-floor ceilings.
Meanwhile, colorful Western scenes based on Thomas Hart Benton paintings cover the ceilings of rooms on the second floor.
Consistency is usually a principle of good design. Not here.
Jesse and Matthew Hufft’s home is a mishmash of materials. And yet it’s stunningly elegant thanks to clean, modern lines, a gracious flow and natural daylight.
Ten years ago, the couple started Hufft Projects, a design-build firm, in New York City and moved to Kansas City a year later. He was the architect, she was the business manager.
Since then, the company has grown to a staff of 56 that includes architects, designers, artists and craftsmen. The team can fabricate anything from a brass drawer pull to a contemporary powder-coated aluminum bathtub at its 60,000-square-foot studio in the old Wolferman’s Grocery plant next to Roanoke Park.
The couple’s three-story home a few blocks away in Roanoke is a show house and testing ground for materials and designs created at Hufft Projects. The couple invite clients over for dinner or drinks to see how designs and materials can be used. And three times a year, they invite new staff members to tour the home.
Dan Brown, projects’ director of residential design, and Chris Rodriguez, fabrication director, led about 20 employees through the home one recent morning. The two served as tour guides because they were heavily involved in the house’s creation.
“It’s hard to convey to clients in Kansas City what our work is about. Photos just don’t capture it,” Brown explained as the employees scrutinized the home. “So this is a place to bring clients to show them the level of detail and craftsmanship we employ. This house is a huge confidence-builder.”
As far as Jesse can tell, their home was the first construction in Roanoke in 45 years. It was built on an overgrown lot that Matthew Hufft bought in 2009.
The home was the first for which Hufft Projects acted as the general contractor. It took nine months from groundbreaking to move-in in May 2011, though it wasn’t finished until June 2014, just in time to be photographed for Dwell magazine.
“We had been using Matthew’s parents’ home in Springfield as a show house before that,” Jesse said. “We will probably be redoing things (in the house) every five years.”
Brown and Rodriguez highlighted features such as the custom-fabricated kitchen cabinets with larch wood and the 20-foot-long kitchen island that houses a trashcan drawer that opens with the bump of a knee. They pointed to the cabinets in the first-floor powder room that are made of reclaimed lichen-corroded pine.
In the living room, at the rear of the home, they made note of the wood-burning fireplace with a blackened steel facade and glass door. It operates more like a stove, Rodriguez said, because it pushes heat out into the room more efficiently than open fireplaces, which suck heat up into the chimney.
Brown explained that indirect cove lighting mimics and complements natural daylight by turning on slowly in the morning and automatically adjusting throughout the day as the sun moves through the sky. It can also be turned up bright for cooking, then dimmed for ambiance.
The team also designed and built furniture, accessories and hardware for the home, including the dining room table, picture frames and black steel toe kicks on doors, a play table for the Hufft kids — Rock, Cash and Clover — with a table-top shaped like Missouri and even a baby crib.
There’s something for everyone, including an elevator shaft that Jesse says they will complete when their two Weimaraner dogs, Coltrane and Blue, become arthritic and can’t manage the stairs.
Hufft Projects is often lauded as one of the area’s best architectural firms and was named one of Architectural Digest’s 2015 Architects on the Rise.
The firm has had a hand in designing and building two dozen homes and more than 20 commercial developments and is starting on the redevelopment of the historic downtown Savoy Hotel and Grill into a 21c Museum Hotel.
The Hufft Projects studios are light and airy and feature rows of desks where several dozen architects and designers work. The Huffts sit among them. There’s a bare-bones eating area that will eventually become a commercial-grade kitchen for staff happy hours and events.
“The playroom,” as Jesse called it, has a small Formlabs 3-D printer where they create prototypes. She pointed to a series of drawer pull forms, starting with the prototype created on the printer. A wax mold was made from the prototype and then the final product, a heavy bronze version, was cast.
The workshop on the other side of a glass wall contains a 5,000-pound Computer Numerically Controlled router that can cut a range of materials including solid wood, acrylic, laminate and metals to accuracies of 1/1000 of an inch, about the width of a human hair.
They’ve nicknamed it Tiny and use it a lot to cut casework for cabinets and furniture. A woodworking shop behind it prevents cross-pollination of dust on the machines.
An intern created the colorful Thomas Hart Benton murals on the playroom and all of the Hufft kids’ bedroom ceilings by using Tiny to cut puzzle-like pieces from laminate and fitting them together.
There’s also a commercial-grade spray paint room like you’d find in an auto body repair shop.
“It’s way more cost-effective than packing stuff up, sending it off to get painted, getting it back and realizing something isn’t right, then sending it back again,” Jesse said.
They’re all “kids”
Matthew, 39, has been an architect for 15 years. He and Jesse, 37, met through mutual friends while undergrads at the University of Kansas.
“She is what allowed me to focus on design and innovation,” he said. “Now she is the CEO and runs the business. She has the perfect combination of charm, personality and financial knowledge. People really gravitate to her. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to grow like we have.”
After KU, Matthew studied architecture at Columbia University in New York, then worked at the firm of a former Columbia dean. In his spare time, he designed a home for his first clients: his parents.
“That gave other people confidence in us,” he said. “But it’s more common than you’d think. There are a lot of stories of architects who get their start with their parents as their first clients.”
He didn’t envision that he’d be heading a company of this size and versatility 10 years later.
“The business plan is something that evolved on its own as the business grew. I never knew we would be this into fabrication,” Matthew said.
His favorite project so far?
“They are like kids, you can’t say you have favorites,” he said. “They all have their own personality, and they have people attached to them. But I do love the Artery Project.”
The 10,000-square-foot home in Mission Hills is owned by Christy and Bill Gautreaux, and it is a traffic stopper, or as landscape architect Peter Porter put it: a “sculptural composition of dramatic cantilevers.”
“Not only do I think it’s a great project for the owners, but it’s great for Kansas City,” Matthew said. “It’s half home and half art gallery. They do a lot of philanthropic events, and there will be a residential entrance and a separate entrance for the gallery for when they have events.”
Where do the couple see Hufft Projects in 10 years?
“That’s a great question,” Jesse said. “We are working on that right now, rewriting our business plan. We’re looking at if we want to stay where we are: lean and tight? Or are we looking at more national or possibly even international projects? Obviously, if we go national or international, it would be just design, because we’re not going to be doing fabrication for a project in London.”
Meanwhile, they’ll continue to design, fabricate and build regionally, and to open their own home as a showcase for clients.
Two years ago, they designed a home in Prairie Village for Tiffany and Rowdy Meeks.
“My husband is a huge fan of Matthew’s work,” Tiffany Meeks said. “He’d seen him featured in magazines and online. When we first met, he had Matthew picked out as the architect of the dream home.”
Seeing the Huffts’ home made an impact in designing their own home, Meeks said. “There was a lot of stuff on the blueprints and software that was hard to imagine. When we got to their house and saw it, we got really excited.”